Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, has spent the last 20 years giving away his large fortune. At the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center Sunday evening, Nov 6., he made a rare virtual appearance. The 93-year-old Marcus, whose generosity helped build the namesake community facility and who namesake in Dunwoody, spent a lively hour discussing the lessons he has learned and the important people that have helped shape his long and successful career.
The event was sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Times, which is also a major sponsor of this year’s festival. The newspaper’s publisher, Michael Morris, who is Marcus’s son, introduced the program.
Many of the evening’s observations were taken from Marcus’s new book, “Kick Up Some Dust,” co-written with Catherine Lewis, an assistant vice president and a history professor at Kennesaw State University. In his Sunday night book festival conversation with Lewis, Marcus credited his mother, a poor Russian immigrant, with providing the important lesson that stayed with him over the years.
“All the things I believe in, really came from my mother,” he told Lewis. “My mother said the more you give, the more you’ll get. Never look back on bad things. Always keep positive thoughts in your mind. These are things that she taught me. But the most important one is, you have to give back.”
He particularly remembers, during the 1930s, looking forward to getting a nickel from her for an occasional summertime treat, a Charlotte Russe, or “Charly Roose” as it was called on the streets of Newark, New Jersey where he grew up. It was a sliver of pound cake covered with whipped cream and a cherry. The sweet was set in a scalloped paper cup that you pushed up from the bottom as it was eaten. But he remembers, much to his disappointment that one nickel he thought was his, was instead dropped into the small pushkah or charity box his mother kept in their crowded tenement flat.
“What are you doing?” the disappointed young Marcus remembers asking his mother. “And she would say, “this is for charity, and you have to give it. This is what we do, we Jews. We give back to charity.” I never forgot that, and I think it became part of my being – part of who I am. I hope that my children and my grandchildren feel the same way and will continue after I’m gone.”
It’s the reason he’s subtitled his book, “Lessons on thinking big, giving back and doing it yourself,” a personal philosophy of contributing to others that helped him shape the culture of The Home Depot that he led for almost 25 years. Today he believes it also provides the inspiration for his monumental philanthropy.
Over the years he has had an enormous impact on healthcare in Atlanta, with his gifts to Grady Hospital and Piedmont Hospital, the Shepherd Rehabilitation Center, the Marcus Autism Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and nationally through his support for J Screen’s medical research at Emory University and elsewhere. He also built the Georgia Aquarium. Marcus has been a primary benefactor of the Birthright program in Israel for young Jewish adults and recently began funding a similar program for Jewish high school students to prepare them for the challenges of life on college campuses today.
“It is brutal out there,” Marcus said, in a direct statement to the Marcus Jewish Community Center audience. “Those of you Jews out there don’t understand how serious this issue is today on the campuses in America. Antisemitism is slowly but surely raising its ugly head. It’s like when I grew up in the forties, and in the fifties. I saw it every day of my life.”
Those of you Jews out there don’t understand how serious this issue is today on the campuses in America. Antisemitism is slowly but surely raising its ugly head. It’s like when I grew up in the forties, and in the fifties. I saw it every day of my life.
And he had a challenge to those, who unlike himself have enjoyed financial success and have not done much to share their wealth. Marcus said he and the executive director of his foundation, Jay Kaiman, have been on a crusade to have those who are rich to open their wallets.
“I will tell you that Jay and I spent a lot of time on this subject. We have met a lot of people who have untold wealth nobody generally knows about. They’ve made tons of money and they’re sitting on it and doing nothing with it. The truth is that most of them want to do something. Jay and I have given – I don’t know how many lessons. We have sat with many mentoring about how to do it and how to get yourself involved. Get out of the shadows and give.”ì
Kick Up Some Dust: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing It Yourself is available on Amazon: https://a.co/d/eGjhFfv.
- Bob Bahr
- Bernie Marcus
- The Home Depot
- Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center
- Michael Morris
- Kick Up Some Dust
- catherine lewis
- Kennesaw State University
- Grady Hospital
- Piedmont Hospital
- Shepherd Rehabilitation Center
- the Marcus Autism Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
- J Screen
- Emory University
- Georgia Aquarium
- Jay Kaiman